Karen Conway first met Joseph on a trip to Tanzania. He looked like a small child—he was 14 years old, but could have easily been mistaken for about 10. He was thin, had burns on his body, and was blind in one eye.
Years earlier, Joseph lived alone on the streets as an orphan. He had been infected with HIV having been tormented by sexual predators. Today, he is a junior leader for Right To Play in his home country of Tanzania.
“His life was awful,” Conway said. “Then he met somebody who was involved in our program who invited him to come along. He stuck with it long enough to become one of our junior leaders.”
Stories of reinvention like Joseph’s are, fortunately, the norm for Right To Play, and this is something Conway has seen first-hand during her three visits into the field.
Conway, now a member of the Board of Directors for Right To Play (RTP) UK, has been working with RTP since 2009. RTP, which reaches over 1 million children worldwide, is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.
Having already supported RTP’s efforts on the ground in Ghana and Tanzania, Conway recently returned from a five-day trip to Jordan, where she, along with two other ASL parents, worked with Syrian refugees.
While in Jordan, Conway visited a refugee camp where RTP is working with Palestinian, Iraqi, and, most recently, Syrian refugees. “In the program that we watched, which focused on the idea of social cohesion, there were 150 girls from all of those backgrounds playing games together that delivered a message of cooperation,” she said. The girls played a series of games including relay races, which required teamwork. “Following the game, the girls were asked to connect the game to something they already know in their life and apply it to something they are going to do in the future,” Conway said.
Seeing the programs on the ground allows for a greater comprehension of exactly what RTP does and how it works. “Sometimes there is a misperception that what RTP does is that it brings footballs to kids in Africa. But what we do is actually a lot more sophisticated than that and seeing it in action is really understanding it,” she said. “It is something very simple yet very sophisticated because it is just a game, but it is a game that is targeted at specific groups to teach a specific lesson.”
The entire notion of the simplicity of RTP’s work proved to be the initial point of interest for Conway. “What I really was intrigued about was the obvious nature of helping children through play,” she said. Her background in sport, as well as her children’s involvement in sport, led to her belief that sport and play are ways for people to learn about life, leadership, and character. “It just really clicked and spoke to what was important to me and what felt like a really great way to help children and enable them to have fun and learn life-lessons.”
While she has been out into the field three times, Conway’s consistent involvement is through helping RTP raise funds and awareness so that the organization can expand its programs. “Most of what I do is a bit more down to earth. Without the fundraising, we can’t do what we need to do,” she said.
Joseph’s story has left an indelible mark on Conway’s memory. “He was just this lovely, happy boy with a big smile on his face. He was kicking the football around with my son Will (’14),” she said. “Later, when he was telling his story he [Joseph] said, ‘Right To Play saved my life.’
Having just seen it all again up close and personal, it reaffirmed, yet again, the power of what we do,” she said. “I feel very privileged that I have an opportunity to be involved.”
Whether it is the glory days of Guns N’ Roses or the antics of Miley Cyrus, MTV, at first glance, appears to be inextricably entangled in the celebration of all that deserves to be ignored.
Bill Roedy, ASL Parent the former Chairman and Chief Executive of MTV Networks International, and the man whose vision proliferated MTV across the globe, sees MTV’s message in a different light. During his 22 years at MTV, Roedy made it his priority to emphasize global issues—prominently the fight against HIV/AIDS and climate change—in the programming that was broadcast. “I felt again that it was important to tap into something that made a difference. We did a whole host of campaigns all around the world,” Roedy said.
Public service has never been an area that Roedy has shied away from. Attending West PointMilitary Academy, Roedy served seven years in the military, both as an officer in Vietnam and as the commander of three nuclear missile bases in Italy.
Upon leaving the military, Roedy attended Harvard Business School and worked for Home Box Office (HBO), before arriving at MTV as the Chief Executive and Managing Director of MTV Europe in 1989.
At MTV, Roedy worked to spread the channels by customizing the programming to fit each individual culture. “[MTV] changed everywhere you went. This product had to reflect where it was being sold, reflect local sensibilities. I designed the organization to truly reflect local cultures,” he said.
Coinciding with the specialization of MTV, Roedy began to emphasize the importance of creating awareness and educating viewers about specific global concerns that were affecting their lives. Roedy used the power of television to impart this message of awareness. “We did everything from a 30 second spot to a 90 minute documentary. The message was in the programming,” he said.
In Africa, a central message was the danger of HIV/AIDS. “[In Kenya] we do a series of programs called Shuga. You can think of it as an African ‘Gossip Girl’, and it’s all home cast. The show gets tremendous ratings, and we put important messages in it. Everything from the importance of testing for AIDS, tolerance, anti-stigma messages, male circumcision, or female genital mutilation,” Roedy said. “We have found that if you watch these shows, you are more likely to get tested, and practice safe sex.”
MTV, though, did not restrict its educational programming just to Africa. In the United States such shows as “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” focus on the hardships and struggles of unplanned pregnancy. “Not only does it show how hard it is to be a mom, but often a single mom. Even though [the show] wasn’t necessarily intended this way, it does have a very strong message,” Roedy said.
An article written by Annie Lowrey for the New York Times in January 2014 estimated that the shows may have prevented as many as 20,000 teen pregnancies.
Another effective way that Roedy and MTV have harnessed their capabilities to create change is through the use of celebrity spokespersons. “I would have Wyclef [Jean] yelling at the boys to practice safe sex—boys get it when they’re yelled at—while Beyonce tells the girls ‘no condom, no sex.’ The celebrities are very impactful,” Roedy said.
Roedy believes in the importance of public service for any business, and has seen the growth of this concept since pioneering it with MTV. “Initially we did a lot more [awareness work] than any other company. Now though I think a lot of people do it. CNN is wonderful, they do a great campaign against human trafficking. The key message I would give to a company is to pick any issue and do it because it is good for you and your customers. If you don’t have healthy customers, then do it for your employees,” he said. “Thirdly, if you don’t believe those two, do it for your brand. Just do something that makes a difference.”
Caroline Heinz-Youness’ first exposure to Africa, South Africa and Kenya, in particular, instilled in her a deep desire to help. Aged 17, Heinz-Youness boarded a boat set to go around the world, in a trip sponsored by University of Pittsburgh as part of their Semester at Sea program. “I took it very seriously. I don’t think anything turned me around, flipped me on my head as much as that trip,” she said. “That’s when I met Africa. There was something so strange. I wrote to my sister, ‘I feel more at home here than I do anywhere I have ever lived in my life.’ And so that was it. They say that either Africa gets in your blood or you hate it. And it just completely became my blood.”
Heinz-Youness embarked upon several charitable endeavors, including teaching prison inmates, before returning her attention to Africa, applying her altruistic zeal in Tanzania.
Her circumstances were fortuitous––she was afforded an allocation in 1997 from the Clifford S. Heinz Foundation, which her family runs. “My father very kindly said, ‘We really want to support you, but it’s like throwing water to sand.’ So I said, ‘Okay, just [give me] a little bit and I’ll show you what happens, and then if you think that it’s a waste of time then fine, we’ll stop.’ That’s how it got started, and that’s also why I take so much personal responsibility,” Heinz-Youness explained.
In Tanzania, Heinz-Youness faced the harsh reality of life for the Maasai, an indigenous tribe who, at the time, were fighting a serious battle against AIDs, and losing. As a result, she focused on establishing bush clinics in the region. “[The Maasai] were at that point being particularly ravaged by AIDS because of their social mores and practices in terms of boys becoming warriors and sharing women. AIDS [was] basically destroying them. The bush clinics were primarily hospices in the way they were oriented, because [the Maasai] were pretty much dying at that point,” Heinz-Youness said.
The stories of the horrific, ruthless and systematic slaughtering of Native Americans by New World explorers amplified Heinz-Youness’ ambition to help Tanzania, as she took a closer look at the effect of “modernity” upon the Maasai. “Coming from the United States and having remembered the story of Native American Indians, I was really taking a look at what modernity was doing to the Maasai. It really pulled at me,” she said. “I just felt like, ‘I don’t have billions or whatever, but I can do something.’”
However, Heinz-Youness is adamant that charity, or any humanitarian effort for that matter, is not exclusively dependent on one’s ability to expend money. The hands-on approach, she argues, is just as crucial. “I don’t think [money and the hands-on approach] can be disentangled from one another. They are truly mutual partners. That’s the way it is. I don’t want anybody to feel that they are limited in what they can offer just because they don’t have money,” she said. “These organizations need the money, but there’s a multitude of things people can do if they can’t offer money. Both are needed, but if you don’t have the money, it’s not a mutually exclusive thing that you cannot contribute.”
Following the graduation of her youngest child Lena (’14), Heinz-Youness plans to spend the majority of her time in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and establish a permanent residence in the Makana region to oversee a project designed to help South Africans conserve their environment. “If they don’t at least preserve the wildlife, they are eradicating any hope for themselves in the future. I’m sure things will develop, but right now they need to keep a foothold in the eco-tourism arena because the whole world is seeing extinctions, and Africa’s one of the last vestiges of wildlife on the planet,” she said.